Big Publishing

The Big Boys’ Table

13 August 2018

From author Jenny Trout:

I’m talking to a male author at a signing event. He writes thrillers and horror and he’s standing in front of tall promotional banners bearing big-name praise for his books. He’s normal and personable and not braggy.

Which is what makes it worse when he says that his first contract resulted in a seven-figure advance.

He explains how much support he’s gotten from big names, the movie and television rights he’d sold. How none of his subsequent advances have been below six figures.

And how he’d gotten a lot of this attention because an indie book he’d published had reached sales figures that are fairly average to midlist indie romance authors.

“Anyone can do what I did,” he says of his marketing tactics at the beginning. He’s a nice guy and genuinely believes his good luck at stumbling upon a marketing tactic that worked is why he’s being handed big checks and bigger opportunities. He wants his fellow authors to succeed. He wants to pay it forward and help them the way he was helped. Because everyone has been so nice to him, so eager to see his star rise. He tells a story about one of the biggest names in the business flying him out to spend a weekend in his guest house and saying, “We’re going to get you a seat at the big boys’ table.”

It’s a story out of a writer’s wildest dreams.

It’s a story out of a male writer’s wildest dreams.

Those words, “the big boys’ table”, undoubtedly thrilled him in the retelling of the tale. Who doesn’t fantasize about having a rich, powerful person promise them that every dream they have is about to come true? But they didn’t have the same inspirational effect on me that he was probably going for. A moment before, I’d been listening to a fascinating story of an author who really, truly believes in himself and the power of our art.

A moment later, I was slapped with a reminder that these wild literary adventures aren’t for me or any other woman. Because there’s no seat for a female author at “the big boys’ table.”

. . . .

Does this mean his books aren’t good? No. I haven’t read them, but I plan to read his next release because it sounds incredible. Does it mean he hasn’t worked for the success he’s received? Not at all. He’s a hybrid author currently working on self-published releases alongside traditionally published ones, which is no easy feat. The problem isn’t this author or that he’s been offered a seat at the big boys’ table. The problem is that when another man is invited to that table, they forget why they’re there. They don’t notice the people who aren’t sitting with them.

And the men who’ve spent a lot of time at that table know this. They’ve carefully engineered the situation to be this way. And they’re going to tell you that it’s your fault that you’re not taken seriously. That if you wrote something more “literary”, if you used your initials or a male pen name, if you didn’t waste time on this or that publisher, there would be room for you. That it’s not them. It’s not the institution. It’s you.

How can we expect to be treated equitably in a business that openly sneers at its best-selling genre simply because of the people who write it and buy it? How can we believe publishers who insist that they’re giving everyone a fair shake while indulging in boys’ club terminology? Why are we told that men who’ve written fewer books and done half our sales have proven themselves and earned astronomical advances that our work pays to provide?

How stupid do you think we are?

As long as powerful people in traditional publishing describes success in such terms, there is no reason for the rest of us to court industry favor. The game is rigged, so there’s no reason to continue playing.

Link to the rest at Trout Nation

Here’s a link to Jenny Trout’s books where she writes as Jenny Trout and where she writes as Abigail Barnette. If you like what an author has written, you may wish to check out the author’s books.

Pearson encouraged by ‘good first half’ but reports sales fall for PRH

29 July 2018

From The Bookseller:

Pearson has reinforced guidance that it expects to return to underlying profit growth in 2018 after posting underlying revenue growth of 2% and adjusted operating profit up 46% year-on-year for the first half of 2018. However it reported Penguin Random House – in which Pearson still has a 25% stake – saw sales fall in the first half owing to “softer fiction print sales and lower e-book sales”, only “partially offset by rising audio sales”.

According to Pearson’s first half report, Penguin Random House saw “revenues down on an underlying basis year on year”, although figures were not disclosed. However Pearson said the business did benefit from major bestsellers by Bill Clinton and James Patterson, Jordan Peterson, Lee Child, R J Palacio and Dr Seuss. Pearson’s stake in PRH contributed £22m to the education company’s adjusted operating profit, down 4% in underlying terms, and down 52% in headline terms primarily due to the disposal of Pearson’s 22% stake in the business to Bertelsmann in October 2017.

First-half TCM figures from Nielsen BookScan put Penguin Random House UK sales in the UK at £137.8m, down 1.6% on the same period last year.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

‘Dire statistics’ show YA fiction is becoming less diverse

27 July 2018

From The Guardian:

Despite a raft of diversity initiatives, the percentage of young adult books written by black and minority ethnic (BME) authors has declined steadily since 2010, according to a new study warning that the UK’s “outdated” publishing culture must take rapid action to address a systemic problem in its ranks.

The research is “evidence of what many people already suspected: people of colour are terribly under-represented in books and bookish jobs”, according to its author Dr Melanie Ramdarshan Bold at University College London. It follows hot on the heels of the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education’s report into character diversity in children’s books, which showed only 1% of books published in the UK last year had a BME main protagonist.

. . . .

Ramdarshan Bold’s study looked specifically at the authors of young adult titles published in the UK between 2006 and 2016, considered the boom period for YA fiction. Drawing from the British Library’s corpus of bibliographic data, she found around 8,500 YA books had been published over the decade, with 8% written by BME authors – well below the 13% of the UK population who have a minority background.

She also found that the proportion of books written by authors of colour had declined over the period: while 7% of titles published in 2006 were by BME authors, this had dropped to 6% in 2016, after reaching a high of 14% in 2008. The number of books written by authors of colour fluctuated between 25 and 64 titles per year.

“Surprisingly, the number of titles written by authors of colour dropped from 2010 onwards, reaching a low in 2014 (5% of titles written by authors of colour), despite 2010-2014 being the most productive time period for YA publishing. Although publishers produced more titles during this period, they were predominantly written by white authors,” wrote Ramdarshan Bold, who published her findings in Publishing Research Quarterly on Friday.

. . . .

Instead, white female authors dominated the young adult market between 2006 and 2016, accounting for 59% of all titles, with white men writing 31%. Of the young adult authors of colour, 6% were women, with men of colour only accounting for 1.7% of books. British men of colour wrote only 0.4% of the young adult books published over the period.

. . . .

“The publishing industry needs to engage in more sustainable action, rather than discussions, to help shift the entire publishing culture, which is clearly outdated for, and not reflective of, the communities it serves. Until this happens, these dire statistics will not change significantly.”

Link to the rest at The Guardian

Another study that ignores the huge number of YA books self-published and purchased on Amazon.

PG suggests focusing on the faults of the Titanic while ignoring the future of publishing is a silly undertaking. If successful, this campaign will result in many authors of diverse backgrounds published shortly prior to the collapse of the industry. Ditto for people of diverse backgrounds going to work for Big Publishing.

Flexing Export Muscle Ahead of Brexit: The UK’s Publishers Association Releases Its 2017 ‘Yearbook’

19 July 2018

From Publishing Perspectives:

Pushing its position in book exports ahead of the March Brexit deadline, the UK’s Publishers Association’s annual “Yearbook” report for 2017—released today (July 19)—is touting an 8-percent rise in exports in that year to £3.4 billion (US$4.4 billion). Exports, according to the report, accounted in 2017 for 60 percent of the British book industry’s revenues. Europe accounted for 36 percent of 2017’s exports’ value.

. . . .

CEO Stephen Lotinga in his introduction calls UK publishing “a powerhouse of the creative industries.” Lotinga and others in the UK book business are working to establish the publishing industry’s standing as the country prepares to leave the European Union. It’s an important moment for traction.

. . . .

In the run-up to Brexit, this kind of hard data about the book industry’s contributions to the UK’s creative industries may well count more than any one year’s upbeat revenue figures. But, happily, that’s not to say that the news from 2017 is bad.

. . . .

As Lisa Campbell at the UK’s publishing trade magazine of record, The Bookseller, is pointing out, it can’t be overlooked that “While most areas of business performed robustly, domestic sales of textbooks to schools took a 12-percent hit, revealing that savage public sector cuts are starting to bite in the education” sector.

Of interest in this area, however, is a figure from the report that shows digital school books up an impressive 32 percent, to £27 million (US$35 million), “suggesting,” as the association’s media messaging modestly puts it, “that the use of digital teaching resources is becoming more prevalent.”

That may cheer observers concerned that sales of consumer ebooks in the home market—again, meaning in-country as opposed to in exports—are reported to have come in 9 percent lower in 2017, bringing their figure down to £139 million (US$181 million).

Perhaps never as comfortable as the Stateside market with ebooks—which is hardly to say that everyone in the US industry likes them, either—the UK industry on the whole has remained predominantly fond of print, and many will be pleased to know that print saw its revenue rise in the UK in 2017 by 5 percent.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

America’s Literary Hotshots Once Shunned TV, Now They Want to Run the Show

14 July 2018

From Vanity Fair:

At the turn of the 21st century, New York literati would often shut down attempts to discuss the latest television shows with the sniffy refrain “I don’t even own a TV.” I remember one particular book party at which a cluster of hot young novelists collectively agreed that they wouldn’t mind having their books optioned for the small screen—as long as no one ever got around to making them. TV in those days was still scorned as a distraction factory churning out bland entertainment in standardized 30- or 60-minute chunks punctuated by Pavlovian laugh lines and pre-commercial-break cliff-hangers.

That snobbery gradually turned inside out as the medium evolved from delivering conventional network fare aimed at the broadest possible audience into a vehicle for the much-hyped new golden age. Prestige dramas and idiosyncratic comedies put a premium on nuance and experimentation, on complex characterization and scintillating dialogue. In other words, all the things for which literary fiction is known. So utterly has the literati’s disdain for the small screen dissolved that nowadays novelists are lining up to have their books adapted. If you eavesdrop on any gathering of serious writers, they’re as likely to be discussing Killing Eve or Better Call Saul as they are the latest book by Zadie Smith or Rachel Kushner. Even the University of Iowa is launching TV-writing programs this fall.

“I see everybody talking about TV like they would talk about books,” says Megan Abbott, author of 10 novels (including Dare Me, which she is developing into a series) and a writer on the HBO series The Deuce. “[The writers I know] take the shows they watch very seriously.”

Link to the rest at Vanity Fair

The departing CEO reminds us that Barnes and Noble is of interest and a source of concern for all publishers

13 July 2018

From veteran publishing consultant Mike Shatzkin:

When Barnes & Noble interrupted Holiday week day-dreaming to announce that recently elevated CEO Demos Parneros had been abruptly dismissed for a contract violation that also eliminated his severance, it not only ignited a minor industry of speculation about “what happened?” but it also called attention to the commercial situation at Barnes & Noble.

And that, in a couple of words, is “not good”.

There are two inexorable and unrelenting shifts taking place in the book businiess, and while neither of them are B&N’s fault, it is also true that neither work in B&N’s favor. One is that more and more book purchasing is taking place online and less and less in physical stores. And the other is that more and more books are being published and sold, or distributed, from outside the commercial realm. That is, the entities publishing books to make money on them are seeing their share being sliced away by countless cuts from independent authors and various corporate and cause organizations that want to put books into people’s hands and devices to increase their fame or promote a message, not primarily to make a profit.

Since Barnes & Noble’s great expertise centers around promoting and selling books to consumers in physical stores working with publisher trading partners who are trying to make a profit, that means that their part of the book market is just getting smaller in ways that could only be addressed by selling more online and being a more effective conduit for non-commercial distribution. They’ve failed miserably for two decades at the former and there isn’t big money in the latter.

But commercial book publishing — especially the Big Five with their high-volume flow of commercial new titles and deep backlists but also a diminishing but still long tail of university presses, smaller general trade houses, and specialty publishers — really needs B&N. They’re needed for the hundreds of bookstores they maintain and because they present the one significant alternative to the retailing giant that is growing on the back of the larger trends: Amazon.

. . . .

Just before the Parneros announcement, I had lunch with an industry expert who expressed mild surprise that “the publishers haven’t just bought B&N and fixed it”. This same seer thinks Amazon may be teetering on the edge of vulnerability because they have taken the tactic of steering customers to their own product too far for their own health in the book business.

And on the day that Parneros’s firing was announced, I had met with a publishing veteran from just-smaller-than-Big-5 publishing. He does commercial books, but the ones that don’t usually command six-figure advances. He finds it hard to imagine how publishers will navigate a world without B&N in it and is quite candid about how difficult negotiations with the already-nearly-hegemonic Amazon already are with the B&N counterweight still alive and active.

. . . .

The suggestion that publishers buy and fix B&N surprised me a bit. There was talk about publishers setting up their own online book sales competitor to Amazon 20 years ago and it is evident now why that wouldn’t have worked. Amazon’s significant competitive advantage came from the fact that making money from the book business wasn’t their primary objective: building a customer base on the back of the book business to create a bigger marketplace and ultimately a cloud computing behemoth was where they were going. No publisher or consortium of publishers was going to adopt a vision like that.

But the suggestion does have logical elements. Publishers have the most to gain from a prosperous Barnes & Noble and the most to lose if it goes away. Publishers are, along with store lease-holders, B&N’s most significant trading partners and creditors. And Amazon competes as a publisher, Barnes & Noble still owns a publisher, and major publishers owned the Brentano’s and Doubleday bookstore chains in decades past, so publishers and booksellers have owned each other over the years.

. . . .

Yes, it is a correct analysis that the super-sized bookstore is a dinosaur; massive in-store selection with many titles that hardly ever sell is a relic of the pre-Internet age. And the “curation” that makes a small selection work effectively is more easily delivered by Amazon’s massive supply chain and highly localized market knowledge, not to mention their ability to “promote” by email the existence of a store or anything in it to a large percentage of purchasers in any locale. Similarly, Amazon will find it easy to sell “home goods”, or whatever else is the right thing for any particular location because they probably already do. And while B&N is being urged to ditch the money-demanding Nook ebook line, Amazon would be using Kindle as a springboard to the extent that is relevant at all to a store-shopping audience.

And I’m going to admit to a bit of a chuckle when I read “build a community”. A community? One  community? Does that mean one community for people who read Civil War history and romance fiction? No, that’s a silly idea. A bookstore actually needs to foster many communities. You can be pretty confident that Amazon knows that.

Link to the rest at The Shatzkin Files

PG says very smart retailers are worried about competition from Amazon. The idea that some big publishers (which are not very big at all compared to Amazon) know how to sell books at retail better than Amazon does is ludicrous.

Besides, none of the large US publishers are independent entities. They are all owned by large conglomerates in Europe or the US. PG suggests that these conglomerates (which are themselves much smaller than Amazon) have no appetite to fund a bunch of retail bookstores that are very unlikely to be any more profitable than Barnes & Noble has been for several years.

Print Unit Sales Rose 2% in First Half of 2018

7 July 2018

From Publishers Weekly:

With unit sales of print books rising 4% in the adult nonfiction segment—the industry’s largest major category—total unit sales for the first half of 2018 increased 2% over the comparable period in 2017 at outlets that report to NPD BookScan. The gain follows a 3% increase in six-month unit sales in the first half of 2017 over 2016. The strength in adult nonfiction offset a 4% decline in sales in the adult fiction segment. Overall, total units in the first half of 2018 were 316.8 million, up from 310.7 million in the first half of 2017.

Adult nonfiction benefited from strong sales of two political books both published by Macmillan divisions: Fire and Fury by Michael Wolff and released by Holt, sold nearly 1 million print copies, according to BookScan, while James Comey’s A Higher Loyalty sold more than 577,000 copies for Flatiron. A third new adult nonfiction title, Magnolia Table by Joanna Gaines, sold almost 676,000 copies in the first half of the year, putting it in second place overall.

Adult fiction sales suffered from yet another period where no new novel broke out in print. (Though several did sell briskly in e-book). The top-selling new novel in the first half of 2018 was The President Is Missing by Bill Clinton and James Patterson, which sold nearly 384,000 copies in the first six months of 2018. Stephen King’s The Outsider was the second-most popular new adult fiction title in the first six months of the year, selling over 275,000 copies. In the first six months of 2017, two backlist novels led the adult fiction chart—A Man Called Ove by Fredrick Backman sold 451,000 copies, and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale sold 325,000 copies.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Author Earnings Sliding Fast in U.K.

29 June 2018

From Publishers Weekly:

Median annual income of professional writers in the U.K. is now under £10,500, down by 15% since 2013, according to ALCS (Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society) research. That figure puts authors’ hourly rate well below minimum wage

The earnings figure of £10,500 compares to the figure of £17,900 defined last year by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation as the income level considered to be a socially acceptable standard of living for a single person.

. . . .

At £3,000 a year, the typical median earnings of ‘all writers’—which includes occasional and part-time writers in addition to professional writers as defined above—are also declining steeply, falling in real terms by 49% since 2005 and 33% since 2013.

As earnings have fallen, so have the number of full-time writers. In 2005, 40% of professional writers earned their income solely from writing. By last year, that figure had fallen to 13.7%. As writing earnings decline, most writers are following portfolio careers, supplementing their writing income with other activities such as teaching.

The findings in the U.K. are generally in line with the salary survey the Authors Guild did in 2015that found a steady decline in authors earnings between 2009 and 2015.

The fall in writer incomes comes against the backdrop of the expansion of the U.K.’s creative industries, now valued at £92 billion and growing at twice the rate of the rest of the U.K. economy.

The gender pay gap is widening, with the average earnings of female professional authors only about 75% of those of the average male professional writer, down slightly from 78% in 2005.

. . . .

At the Society of Authors, chief executive Nicola Solomon said: “This decline is extremely disturbing. With average earnings down by 42% in real terms since 2005 and now falling well below the minimum wage, it is worrying news for the profession.” She went on to say that “if authors can no longer afford to make a living from their work, the supply of new and innovative writing will simply dry up.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

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